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Key Competencies - the challenge

Globalisation and modernisation are creating an increasingly diverse and interconnected world. To make sense of and function well in this world, individuals need for example to master changing technologies and to make sense of large amounts of available information. They also face collective challenges as societies – such as balancing economic growth with environmental sustainability, and prosperity with social equity. In these contexts, the competencies that individuals need to meet their goals have become more complex, requiring more than the mastery of certain narrowly defined skills. (1.)

The challenge is being taken up on a global scale. Individuals, organisations, regions, nations and international groupings are addressing the issue of identifying, developing and validating the competencies required for living and working in the 21st Century.

What competencies?

The OECD’s major study of competencies – the DeSeCo Project - classifies the required competencies in three broad categories (presented in greater detail in their reports [2].):

  1. Individuals need to be able to use a wide range of tools for interacting effectively with the environment: both physical ones such as information technology and socio-cultural ones such as the use of language.

  2. In an increasingly interdependent world, individuals need to be able to engage with others, and since they will encounter people from a range of backgrounds, it is important that they are able to interact in heterogeneous groups

  3. Individuals need to be able to take responsibility for managing their own lives, situate their lives in the broader social context and act autonomously.

For the OECD, a competency is more than just knowledge and skills. It involves the ability to meet complex demands, by drawing on and mobilising psychosocial resources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context. It is interesting to note also that the OECD framework highlights reflectiveness as the heart of key competencies

A report (3.)  by the European Civil Society Platform on Lifelong Learning funded by the European Commission examines the relationship between basic skills, key skills and key competencies:

Basic skills are identified as literacy, numeracy and communication. Closely connected with these skills and increasingly included in definitions of basic skills are other life or key skills such as teamwork, cultural awareness, use of ICT, use of foreign languages, job seeking, entrepreneurship, and skills related to specific areas of employment and learning to learn. The Platform opts for use of the term key competences as representing a transferable, multifunctional package of knowledge, skills and attitudes.

A great deal of work is being done at national and regional level, too. The Australians have decided to call key competencies employability skills . In the UK, which has a comprehensive key skills competency and qualifications framework, a recent report  stressed the urgent need to address the skills challenge. In Canada we find workplace basic skills  - the core skills that employees need to do their jobs successfully. The competencies identified in these and other frameworks have much in common. Also common to these and other countries is the responsibility of ensuring that these competencies are acquired and maintained in the context of lifelong and lifewide learning.

How do we raise the level of key competencies?

Recognition of the necessity to raise skills levels has been attained. The most effective ways of achieving this are the key focus of the Conference and the subject of the Call for Contributions.


1. The Definition and Selection of Key Competencies - Executive Summary, 2004
2. Ibid
3. Developing Basic Skills as Key Competences: A Guide To Good Practice, 2004

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